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Model Railroad News reviews The Athearn Husky Stack

Wednesday, December 09, 2009 by Steven Goehring

Provider Name:  Model Railroad News

Copyright:  2009 Lamplight Publishing

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In this article...

Page 1: Athearn Husky Stacks: Realism Stacks Up On Intermodal Cars
Page 3: Mush!

N-scale intermodal operators, rejoice! Athearn has released a new Gunderson Husky Stack well car in six paint schemes. This run of the standalone double-stack cars includes SP, TTX (two different logo types), CSX Intermodal, BNSF, and BN. Each car retails for $19.98 and is sold individually in a plastic jewel case with a protective cardboard sleeve.

As I write this, I am riding west on Amtrak's Pennsylvanian, watching double-stack trains roll by in the other direction. Double-stack trains truly are the defining mark of modern freight railroading and Athearn has left a mark on the N-scale freight car market with their model of the modern Gunderson Husky Stack car. How is the Husky Stack any more modern than the next freight car? Read on and find out!

Origins of the Husky Stack

Double-stack container trains first hit the rails for regular service in 1981. The Southern Pacific Railroad had developed the idea to provide service for the Sea- Land maritime shipping company. SP's pioneering double-stack service let Sea- Land's containers take a shortcut from the west coast to the Gulf of Mexico bypassing the Panama Canal. From prototype car to production order, the SP spent a little over four years on the double-stack development project. The SP's double-stack cars featured unwieldy bulkheads on each end to prevent the loose top container from blowing off of the car. A new group at Greenbrier Intermodal designed a similar bulkhead car, even as other companies were starting to leave the bulkheads off of their stack cars. The support for the upper container came from inter-box connectors (IBCs) which had been used for years in oceangoing container shipping. Greenbrier and their car builder, Gunderson, wanted to get in on that market, and did so with their Maxi-Stack cars. But there was another new market out there: developing a single, two-truck stack car. Almost all of the existing cars in service were articulated, with the exception of one SP prototype car.

David DeBoer, a co-founder of Greenbrier, had been seeking to fill this single-well stack car niche, despite the "intermodal experts" at Trailer Train Corp. insisting that the only single-well car that could ride smoothly was a European-style 2-axle car. (In fact, it was DeBoer who wrote the reference book I used for much of this background. His Piggyback and Containers is a highly recommended read, and it was my first review item for MRN.) DeBoer sought advice from his retired former boss at the SP. This pitted the Doubting Thomases at TTX up against Bill Thomford, who had developed the SP's double-stack prototypes. Thomford laughed off Trailer Train's existence, pointing out that his own single-well, two-truck stack car had a million miles of reliable service under its belt. DeBoer went back to Greenbrier and the company got to work designing the car that TTX said was doomed to failure.

In 1990, Gunderson turned out the Husky Stack. Test engineers proved Thomford right, and the cars tracked perfectly. Trailer Train ended up reversing their initial claims and ordering 150 Husky Stack cars built with 48-foot wells in 1991. The Burlington Northern also ordered 75 cars and other buyers lined up later. The original 1991 model cars are still going strong for many different owners, including Trailer Train.

Husky Stack development has continued today, with the introduction of 53-foot wells and the "All-Purpose" Husky Stack, with trailer hitches on each end. In Greenbrier terms, the car is named the HS53 for the 53-foot well version, making our Athearn model a HS48.

The details really stack up on these cars. With body-mounted couplers, extremely accurate dimensions, a good number of separately applied parts, and very sharp printing, the Husky Stacks are very nicely done.